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BHS Welcomes Dr. Cuccia and His Powerful Message

As Burrell High School principal, Dr. John Boylan is committed to providing every student in grades nine through 12 with the best education possible. As an educator, he knows that some of the most important lessons are learned outside a traditional classroom environment.

That’s why Boylan welcomed Dr. Gary Cuccia to the high school in February for an assembly about dating violence. Cuccia’s 16-year-old daughter, Demi Brae, was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 2007. Since then, Cuccia has worked to prevent similar tragedies through an educational organization he founded in his daughter’s memory.

While Boylan recognizes that dating violence is an uncomfortable subject, he ultimately decided that Cuccia’s message needed to be heard.

“I think there is that initial hesitation – ‘Do we want to bring this up?’ But I think you have to talk about it openly and directly,” Boylan said.

During the hour-long presentation, Cuccia discussed statistics and warning signs, explaining that an abusive partner can exert control in a number of ways – including verbally, emotionally, physically and financially. He cited statistics that indicate just 33 percent of teens who have been in or know about an abusive dating relationship have told anyone about it.

“I think what he did really well was talk about the data – the ages it starts, and also now the impact of cell phones and the social media aspect of it,” Boylan said. “You could see the students were really hanging on his every word. He did a really good job of engaging them.”

Assistant Principal James Croushore said that after the assembly ended, it quickly became apparent Cuccia had made an impact.

“Immediately we had students engage in discussions with our teachers and counselors about the warning signs,” Croushore said. “It gave our teachers and counselors an opportunity to reinforce that this type of behavior is unhealthy, and no one should be subjected to this type of negative and controlling behavior.”

While Cuccia remains heartbroken about his daughter’s death, he has found strength in the ability to share her story. He believes that dating violence can be prevented when teens, families, organizations and communities work together to implement prevention strategies.

“I want to turn this horrific tragedy into something meaningful. I truly am on a mission to honor the life and memory of my daughter,” Cuccia said. “We are grateful to the school administrators and faculty, and we applaud them for recognizing the importance of what we do and for welcoming our program.”

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The Demi Brae Cuccia Awareness Organization will have its fifth annual “A Night of Remembrance” benefit dinner Oct. 11, 2014, at Rizzo’s Malabar Inn in Crabtree. The event raises money to pay for materials that are distributed during the dating violence-prevention presentations. For details, go to www.demibrae.com/upcoming/.

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